In 1988, Chicago's clubs were still pumping with the dance innovation that had exploded in the city two years earlier - house music. Meanwhile, at a Polish bar near the centre of town, the germ of another sonic revolt was taking shape. In front of a tiny crowd, a lanky, moon-faced guitarist and his ice-cool, American-Japanese side kick were whipping up a maelstrom of freeform jazz-punk noise.
18 months later, this embryonic two-man show had evolved into the Smashing Pumpkins, a proto-grunge quartet with two incendiary 7"s to theor name, including one on the legendary Sub Pop label. Signing to Virgin (Hut in the U.K.), they quickly transformed from a dizzying provincial attraction into one of the world's biggest alternative rock bands, mixing a barrage of metallic guitar with touches of psychedelia and jazz dynamics. Their previous album - the 'White Album'-esque "Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness" - has become the biggest selling double-CD, while their total record sales have now topped the 10 million mark.
But global success has exacted its price. Thanks to the mercurial temperament of Billy Corgan, the group's creative mainspring, the atmosphere within the group has been fraught at the best of times. Yet the group faced its greatest crisis in the summer of 1997, when their touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, fatally OD'd on heroin in a New York hotel room. With him was Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who awaoke from his own drug-induced stupor to alert paramedics to Melvoin's critical condition.
A close friend of Corgan's and in some respects the Pumpkins' emotional anchor, Jimmy was fired soon afterwars for his continuing drug use. In one fateful night, the Pumpkins lost two well-loved members, and pretty much all their self-confidence. The years of relentless gigging, emotional upheavels and creative peaks and troughs had finally taken their toll. But don't worry, the Pumpkins are now back...
Billy Corgan's introduction to music came early, Brought up in the suburbs of Chicago, he was the son of an R&B musician who earned a living by touring with minor showcase bands. The family house was filled with the classic sounds of his father's extensive record collection - Hendrix, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Muddy Waters - which Corgan duly absorbed.
Corgan's birth date of 17th March 1967 was just four weeks after that of Kurt Cobain, a man who would become his friend and occasional rival, and whose life would display several uncanny parallels to his own. As with the Nirvana singer, Billy had a disruptive home-life, being shunted from step-parent to parent and back again. "That's what's at the base of this," he once confessed to Rolling Stone. "I feel like I was fucked over. I thought, why the fuck did you have me if you weren't going to take care of me?"
At 14, Billy was sent to a psychiatrist by his stepmother (then divorced from his natural father), who believed he suffered from a persecution complex. As the shrink was one of his stepmother's best friends, he found it hard to explain that he thought she was the problem. Music proved his only escape; and after seeing a neighbour playing electric guitar in his garage, he resolved to be a rock star. At this time, Billy was enormously influenced by Judas Priest, Cheap Tric, and the Cure.
Deeply intelligent and academically bright, it was assumed that Corgan would pursue a career in law, but after leaving school, he got a job in a record store. Now living with his father, who taught him "the difference between ego and true playing", he began road-testing his talents as a guitarist with a local rock band called the Marked - so called because both Billy and the drummer had strawberry birthmarks (Corgan's is on his hand) about which they'd been hugely self-conscious as kids.